Hello darkness, my old friend

Hello darkness, my old friend

BELGİN AKALTAN - belgin.akaltan@hdn.com.tr
Hello darkness, my old friend

Robin Williams, depression, dark times, Turkey… How much more can we, people in Turkey, take, I wonder, before our fuses are blown?

I’ve come to talk with you again… When Simon and Garfunkel wrote this song, I guess depression was not so common.

Now, everybody is suffering from depression one way or the other on different levels. If not you, then maybe someone close to you. Of course, it is the suicide of Robin Williams that has made us think of this disease over again. It is the contaminant of our modern times.

I call depression a darkness that one is drawn into. It is a dark well you fall into and you go down and down until there is no light or oxygen left around you. When you are depressed there is no taste in life, no reason to live, no love, no joy and no drive left to seek help or get cured…

I spoke to a young person close to me who is suffering “successfully” from depression. I say “successfully” in a bitter sense because he is absolutely suffering, though at the same time fighting it, seeking treatment, trying several medications, and suffering from side effects. This young man described depression as “a dark feeling that builds inside you. You take no pleasure from anything. You feel like you will never get pleasure any more, even if you do the things that you used to enjoy. This feeling peaks sometimes and it even affects your decision between life and death. You want to throw yourself from a high place…”

He recommends any form of activity to his peers, some kind of exercise… He wants them to know that even in cloudy weather, even if the sun or the stars are not seen, they ought to know that these clouds will eventually move on… “Do not close yourself to others. Cling to daily matters. Go, mingle with people; walk among them. Always remind yourself that there are other people going through the same. And that they have survived…”

Women suffer more than men from depression… And I believe gays suffer more than heterosexuals. As well as teenagers, artists, poets, musicians, writers, dancers, designers - I don’t know - people involved in the arts, in creative work, whose skins aren’t thick… These people are more sensitive, more aware and more empathic; they feel the pain more, their radars are more open, picking up more distress signals…

Contrary to widespread belief, it is not weak people who are likely to be depressed. It is actually the strong ones. While weak people do not resist stress and give in when there is too much to take, strong people stand up to stress. They take on more and more and more until their wires start burning.

Dr. Tim Cantopher defines depression as “The Curse of the Strong”: “So what happens if you put a whole lot of stress on to someone who is weak, or cynical, or lazy? The answer is that they will immediately give up, so they will never get stressed enough to become ill. The strong person on the other hand, reacts to stress by redoubling their efforts, pushing themselves well beyond the limits for which the body is designed. When they start to get symptoms, because of their sensitivity to failure and fear of criticism, they keep going, with the inevitable result that eventually something must give way … If you put 18 amps through a 13 amp fuse, there is only one possible result. Stress related depressive illness is essentially a blown fuse.’’

Depression is not the same for everybody. “We all feel depressed at times. But because we all know how the emotion of depression feels, we tend to assume we know how someone feels who is suffering from a depressive illness, or clinical depression. In truth though we haven’t the first idea of what a victim of this illness is going through. At its worst it can be a glimpse of hell which the rest of us will never come near to experiencing in our lifetimes.” 

Life is heavier on some people, as Hürriyet columnist Melis Alphan wrote about Robin Williams. I don’t know. Maybe it is heavier on people in Turkey.

At one point, I was a frequent visitor of Bulgaria, our next door neighboring country, because my husband worked in Sofia. What I noticed on the streets of the Bulgarian capital was that our fellow neighbors, the Bulgarian folks, were all much happier than us. They walked around with a smile on their faces. I noticed that they did not have the stupid daily problems we face every other minute. They lived in a nice organized city with rules, whereas we constantly need to fight the chaos of Istanbul. I mean, I need to overcome 20 problems in a 15 minute trip from Göztepe to Kadıköy, including traffic, bullying drivers, male harassment on the streets, what I hear on the radio about Turkish politics, garbage, horrible architecture, noise pollution, air pollution, smelly people, gypsy children begging on the streets, and street animals in a pathetic condition.

Of course, Sofians have a smile on their faces and we “Istanbulites” have a worried look that we cannot get rid of.

How much more can we, people in Turkey, take, I wonder, before our fuses are blown?